Teacher Tim's TEFL International Blog June 4th, 2011

Dog Daze

Here in Ban Phe, Thailand, there is an elderly lady who rides around on her three-wheeler with a hand-printed sign on the side that reads: “Please feed starving dogs leftover here. I take to them for thanks.”

She collects whatever rancid food items she can, and dumps it in several strategic places around town, where the canines fight over it like demons in hell. It leaves an unsightly and smelly mess behind, which I, for one, do not appreciate in the least. I’m sure the lady thinks she is insuring her own reincarnation as the King of Norway, or some such exalted position, but to me she is just encouraging the dangerous nuisance of feral and vicious dogs that is a continuing blot on Thailand’s tourist industry.

When I talk about this to my Thai friends and neighbors they just shake their heads and say that their Buddhist upbringing will not allow them to collect and kill the tens of thousands of stray dogs that make even the simplest stroll around town an exercise in terror. I never walk anywhere without a stout bamboo stick and a bottle of water. If waving the stick doesn’t deter the brutes, a splash of water in the face will do the trick. In all my years in Thailand I’ve only been bitten twice, and in both cases the cur quietly snuck up on me behind my back to deliver the coup de grace. And then it’s a merry jaunt to the hospital to get the wound cleaned & sterilized, plus a jolly round of shots that can last for several weeks.

The last time I was bit my fiancé Joom went to the nominal owner of the guilty dog and cheerfully asked to take the mutt out and chop its head off. The owner was outraged at her unBuddhist attitude and threatened to call the cops on her. Joom called his bluff, and, in fact, decided she would go to the police herself to see if they would let her take the dog and destroy it. I might mention, in passing, that the same dog had bitten several TEFL International students, as well as several Thais, as they were walking along, minding their own business. Long story short – the dog eventually disappeared, in much the same way, I hope, Argentine dissidents used to “disappear”.

Joom is all for destroying dogs that are not enclosed in a yard or chained up. She calls people who have dogs all over the place but don’t bother to care for them . . well, the translation would not do her feelings justice and might offend a few Caspar Milquetoasts out there. Let’s just say that if there were a Dog Executioner position available in Thailand my fiancé would be first in line for the job. It’s one of the reasons I am crazy about her.

Back in my salad days of teaching ESL in Bangkok, Thailand, I worked at several schools that had dogs as a sort of mascot. The dogs lived on the school grounds, although they were not provided with anything resembling a Western dog house, and the students would bring them bits of meat and bone from their home kitchens. The dog, in return, would romp with the children during recess and sports activities, and so everyone seemed to have a good time – except me. Those school dogs never cared for me. My position was quite clear; if they left me alone, I would leave them alone. Period. But the mutts were always pushing the envelope. They would lay athwart the classroom door just as I was about to enter, their beady eyes daring me to place my fetlock anywhere near their slavering mouth. From the get-go I refused to have anything to do with these impudent beasts. I would sit outside the classroom and calmly instruct the children, in English, to shoo the dog away. I was in no hurry, and if my young scholars did not catch my drift, I could wait for a Thai teacher to come by and ask them to remove the canine land mine.

My classes were constantly interrupted by two or more school dogs getting into a tussle over a shred of water buffalo dung or some such thing – the kids could not resist rushing to the windows to see who was getting the worst of it. And, of course, when any female within six kilometers was in heat the whole schoolyard echoed continuously with howling and bleating and other lascivious noises.

Comedy aficionados will fondly recall the scene in the movie The Old Fashioned Way where W.C. Fields finds himself alone in a room with his infant tormentor, Baby Leroy; after a furtive glance around to insure they are, indeed, in private, Fields gives the little boy a heart-felt kick in the pants.

I replayed that scenario one day in Nonthaburi at a school where I had been suffering the onslaughts of a small black mongrel that liked to pee on my shoes outside of the classroom during lessons and had even chewed one of my good leather shoes to ribbons. In public, of course, I had to grin and bear it, but one holiday I found myself at school catching up on paperwork, with no one else around. I spotted that little black scoundrel of a dog down the hallway, sniffing at a dead wall gecko. I did not hesitate. In the best tradition of Knute Rockne and Notre Dame, I silently ran up to the backside of that ebony nuisance and delivered a kick designed to make a field goal.

I am happy to report that little black dog never came near me or my classroom again.

What to do about the abandoned and neglected dog problem here in Thailand? There’s always neutering and spaying, but, of course, who’s going to pay for it? There are no elderly ladies running around on a three-wheeler asking for donations to ‘fix’ the ever-increasing dog population.

This is a frequent subject of conversation between Joom and I. Her dog, Nipoo, of course, is well taken care of, and was spayed the minute she turned one year old. Joom takes more care in her feeding than she does preparing my meals (or, at least, it feels that way sometimes, when all I get is fried rice from the leftovers in the fridge while Nipoo gets fresh grilled chicken livers from the market!) Joom is rather an iconoclast when it comes to both her countrymen and the dogs that abound here. The only solution, she insists, is to either kill all the dogs – or kill all the people. And I do believe she is more than half-serious.

That’s another reason I’m just crazy about her.